After the evacuation: Investigating the anhydrous ammonia leak - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

After the evacuation: Investigating the anhydrous ammonia leak

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OLIN (KWWL) -- Things are returning to normal in Olin after the entire town was evacuated for an anhydrous ammonia leak at the local co-op. According to the Jones County Sheriff's office, the leak happened about 9:30 on Sunday night at the River Valley Co-Op on the south side of town.

700 people in the community were evacuated and sent to a shelter in Morley until the all clear was sounded at around 2:30 Monday morning.

Vella Toomer working at the local gas station when the evacuation started.

"I was working, and the tanks out there started leaking, and they started evacuating people. They said it was just going to be south of town, and then it ended up all the town," Toomer said.

Once her part of town started to head out, she left too.

"Closed up shop and left. We all went to the Morley building and sat there for a few hours," Toomer said.

The leak was down the road at the River Valley Co-op. A locked valve was open on a 1,000 gallon anhydrous ammonia tank -- leaking 800 gallons of the fertilizer -- creating a chemical cloud in the town.

"The loss was about 2 tons or 800 gallons. A retail value of less than $1,000. Of course, the bigger concern was safety," Regional Operations Manager Mike Wagner said.

Officials say they suspect someone tampered with the tank. People stealing anhydrous ammonia isn't unheard of as it's one of the main ingredients used to make methamphetamine, and it's the reason River Valley and farmers are careful and keep it locked up.

"[The leak is] continued to be under investigation both in house and with our local authorities to see why we had a leak from a locked valve and how that happened and what we can do to make sure that that doesn't happen again," Wagner said.

Toomer and many others got back to Olin around 3:00 a.m.

"It was hard going to sleep after stuff like that," Toomer said. Even though she was tired, she's glad the decision was made to evacuate the town. "Better safe than sorry."

Co-op managers say they're working with investigators though it would be tough to determine if any of the chemical was taken from the tank before the leak started.

Anhydrous ammonia is usually used in the spring and fall as fertilizer on fields across eastern Iowa. It's a dangerous chemical. On the skin, anhydrous ammonia causes freezing and chemical burns wherever the skin or clothing is moist.

Your eyes are especially vulnerable to anhydrous ammonia, and the chemical will burn the eyes causing cataracts, glaucoma and possibly permanent vision loss.

Breathing anhydrous ammonia is also very dangerous. It can burn the lungs. If a person inhales too much, the pain from the burns can paralyze the respiratory system.

Online Reporter;  Jamie Grey

Follow Jamie on Twitter.

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